Life in Daytona Beach before the 1964 Civil Rights Act

Filed under OPINION

ELAINE MOORE SMITH
GUEST COMMENTARY

Editor’s note: These are excerpts of a three-page letter Elaine Moore Smith wrote on May 31, 1963 to participants in an experimental Methodist Lay Institute in the Black Hills of South Dakota, on July 14, 1962. Fourteen college students came from Kindu, Congo (Africa) to participate in the Institute. Ms. Smith was the only Black American in attendance. She read this letter to the audience attending last week’s panel discussion at City Island Library on Daytona’s civil rights era.

…(Nothing) appears worth relating when compared to the experiences that have been a part of my daily life because I am a Negro…I see Negro college graduates scrubbing floors in lieu of a better job opportunity…I myself am forced into a cloistered existence alienated year-round from situations that are the heart of this community.

I believe if Negroes were affluent, they would simply move into the psychiatrist’s office. But we are not. Therefore, we bear an inner whirlpool of frustration and conflict that lingers unrelieved and unobserved by the unsuspecting viewer.

Look at the paradoxes that inhabit my mind: It’s good that something such as the Peace Corp is integrated; it’s bad that Negroes join, for they need to fight for freedom in the U.S. And just why should they improve the American image abroad?

No time like the present
I love life, but if I knew this nation was going to be devastated, I’d sing “Alleluia,” for Whites stand to lose more than us Black folk. I’d like to be free to move uninhibited such as I did in South Dakota; but I can’t run away from racial discrimination.

…Negroes such as I want our rightful legacy as human beings now-and not sometime in the unknown future. Therefore, my friends and I are forced to parade in the streets subjected to the inclinations of city officials and other White citizens.

We sing “We Shall Overcome” and “We Shall Not Be Moved.” But an increasing number of us eighteen million Negroes are overcome. For we have neither the nonviolent nature of Martin Luther King, or the courage and stamina of James Meredith, or the mental and spiritual equilibrium of Howard Thurman. We move from a historically precarious mental state to one akin to the Black Muslims. We move deeper into that whirlpool of frustration and conflict to which I have alluded.

Give me my rights
In a ‘liberal’ city such as Daytona Beach, there are five colored students attending formerly all-White schools, and that’s compliance for you with the Supreme Court’s 1954 school desegregation decision.

I want my rights. I’m asking for nothing more or nothing less. As far as I’m concerned, White people can keep their love; just don’t deny me what should be mine, such as a job if I have acceptable qualifications (other than being White) and such as no segregated medical facilities at tax-supported hospitals if I’ m ill.

But the spirit of God just will not let me hold tenaciously to this position even thought I want to do so. Whites and Negroes must learn to live together in the arena of normal living. We both share the responsibility of securing for [all] … effective citizenship.

Elaine M. Smith, a native Floridian, is a historian and an Alabama State University retired professor. She is the fifth of nine children born to former Bethune-Cookman College President Richard V. Moore and B. J. Moore.

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